Most people turn to the police for protection and safety. If you have been a victim of police abuse you probably feel helpless and frightened. Your sense of security and right-and-wrong has been forever shattered. If a crime was involved, you may feel that you have no real defense against the abuse and that taking action puts you at risk for a harsher punishment. If there was no crime, you fear for your reputation and an underserved permanent criminal record which will follow and limit you for the rest of your life. Police officers have a duty to know and abide by the limits of their position. Whether or not a crime has been committed, they have a legal responsibility to act within reason.
What to do if you have been the victim of police abuse.
If you have been the victim of police abuse you must act quickly. There are several things you should do right away:
- Seek medical attention
- Take photos of your injuries
- Get statements and any film footage from witnesses
- Write down everything that has happened as soon as possible
- Contact an experienced attorney
- File a complaint
You must talk to an attorney who has experience with police abuse cases. Filing a complaint will be necessary, but you should not try to do it on your own. When individuals file a complaint without representation, it often goes nowhere and can result in harassment and further abuse. By filing a complaint through your attorney you make the authorities aware that you are serious about pursuing your case and that you have legal protection from potential retaliation.
Civil or criminal (sue or press charges)?
Police abuse can result in criminal charges against the offending officer(s). A criminal case against an officer can be very difficult to prove. However, if police abuse has resulted in injury or death a civil suit may also be pursued and is more likely to yield favorable results for the victim. Most victims of police abuse should pursue both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit. Types of police abuse which may result in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuitinclude:
Excessive or unnecessary force.
In order to effectively perform their duties, police officers are allowed to use as much force as necessary to protect the public and themselves or to compel compliance from a person who is physically resisting. “Necessary force” can mean going as far as killing someone in some circumstances. This does not mean that they are allowed to use any more force than absolutely necessary. Obviously, excessive force can be a grey area, but there are some clear boundaries such as continuing to use force after a subject is subdued or restrained.
Failure to provide access to medical care.
If a subject is injured or otherwise requires medical attention, after being apprehended, police officers have a duty to make sure that they receive the necessary care. This can include treatment for injuries or medical emergencies (such as a heart attack) incurred during an arrest and medical attention or access to life-saving medications which the officers are made aware of, such as insulin for diabetics.
Frisking and strip searches are sometimes a necessary part of a police officer’s job. How and under what circumstances these tactics cross the line from necessary safety precautions to abuse can be a judgment call, but as with the use of force, there are some basic guidelines that apply. In most cases, a same-gender officer must be called to the scene to legally perform more than a very cursory pat down. An on-scene strip search is almost never permissible. The rules become much stricter when dealing with minors. Of course, it is never permissible for an officer to request or require any person to perform any sort of sexual act. Unfortunately, there are rare cases of police officers committing rape while on duty. In these cases the victim is entitled to compensation for any associated medical expenses including expenses due to a resulting pregnancy.
It is a grim reality that police officers sometimes have to shoot people in the line of duty. Shootings are not always, but can be, fatal. For a shooting to be justified, it is not necessary that the shooting victim be armed, but merely that the officer believed that that the victim was armed. An inappropriate shooting can be very difficult to prove, but carries very serious consequences.
Who is held responsible for police abuse?
Depending on the circumstances individual officers and/or the police department itself may be held responsible. Many elements are involved in determining responsibility including the police department’s policies and training procedures, and its knowledge of prior misconduct, or potential prior misconduct, of the offending officer. In some cases the responsibility may go even farther, such as cases involving malfunctioning Taser devices which could involve equipment manufacturers.
Police abuse lawsuits are complicated. Because the general public tends to assume that when the police act against someone he or she “must have done something wrong,” victims of police abuse often feel humiliated and very alone. Pursuing a claim for police abuse can compromise your physical and legal safety if you do not have the backing of an experienced attorney.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of police abuse, contact an experienced police abuse attorney right away.